Miracle Mitchell-Lama housing developments seek preservation plan
New bill would curb abuses found on pro-private boards
A Mitchell-Lama Reform Bill sponsored by State Sen. Brian Kavanaugh (D-Brooklyn Heights-DUMBO-Williamsburg-Greenpoint-Lower Manhattan) and Manhattan Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal has passed both Houses and now heads for Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s desk, the two sponsors announced Tuesday.
The bill, A.7272/S.6412, would increase transparency in Mitchell-Lama co-op boards, require more frequent board meetings, eliminate voting by proxy and raise the threshold needed for a co-op to leave the program.
The Mitchell-Lama Program, which began in 1955, was formed to build subsidized middle-income housing, both rental and co-op, as a way of keeping middle-income residents in the city. A total of 269 Mitchell-Lama developments were built during the program’s heyday in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s.
A list of Mitchell-Lama co-ops provided by the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development lists quite a few in Brooklyn. Among the most well-known are Atlantic Terminal I and II in Fort Greene; Cadman Plaza North and Cadman Towers, both in Brooklyn Heights; Kings Bay I and II in Brighton Beach; Luna Park in Coney Island; Northside Gardens in Williamsburg; and Pratt Towers and Ryerson Towers, both in Clinton Hill.
“This bill is intended to ensure open, transparent governance of Mitchell-Lama cooperatives to protect the rights of shareholder residents and the public interest in preserving affordable housing in Mitchell-Lama buildings that have been subsidized for decades,” said Kavanagh.
Mitchell-Lama cooperatives are run by a board of directors, the representatives of which are elected by the shareholders of the building. State law does not currently require the board to meet a certain minimum number of times a year.
To enhance transparency, the legislation will require the board hold at least six public meetings each year. To ensure that voting is fair and representative, the legislation will eliminate voting by proxy, a system which the bill’s sponsors say is ripe for abuse, and instead implement an absentee ballot system, which they say “will ensure that factions on the board are not empowered to harvest proxy votes to sway decisions in their favor.”
The legislation would also raise the threshold needed to voluntarily dissolve, or leave Mitchell-Lama, to 80 percent of all dwelling units. It would ensure that back-to-back dissolution votes cannot be held, by imposing a five-year moratorium following a failed dissolution vote.
Finally, the legislation will pause any and all formal steps toward privatization until the last of the executive orders related to the COVID-19 state of emergency expires or is rescinded.
“On behalf of the Brooklyn Mitchell-Lama Task Force. we would like to thank all of our supporters and sponsors for working with the coalition to get this legislation passed thus far. The provisions in A.7272/S.6412 will help us address some of the issues that we have been trying to get addressed for many, many years such as the misuse of proxies, corruption, lack of transparency and non-supervision of boards,” said Dealice Fuller, co-chair of the Brooklyn Mitchell-Lama Task Force.
“[This bill] helps to correct many of the outrageous problems we have seen when a pro-privatization board of directors moves to take a development out of the program, and it makes the process harder by raising the vote percentage to be more in sync with other similar votes in publicly supported housing,” said Christine Fowley, founding member of the Committee to Preserve Cadman Towers.
Sharon Torres, another Cadman Towers resident, said, “It’s been 10 years since moving to Cadman Towers, I’ve used the time to become an active member of the Brooklyn Mitchell-Lama Task Force, Cooperators United for Mitchell-Lama and a member of the Mitchell-Lama Residents Coalition, and have attended hundreds of meetings of hard-working, dedicated Mitchell-Lama residents. I am grateful to Assemblymember Rosenthal and State Senator Kavanagh and their dedicated staff for all their hard work and support.”
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